There’s always more… Fake Stephen Conroy, Leslie Nasser and Telstra

I’ve spoken to a couple of the people involved in dealing with this (although not Leslie) as well as several people in the Australia tech and social media industry who are qualified to comment thanks to their expertise. I’m left with a raft of my own questions, as I think everyone, for one reason or another isn’t telling or hasn’t told the entire story.

Obviously, this leads to speculation, as we can see here on my friend, Bronwen Clune’s blog. It’s educated speculation, but speculation nonetheless. If we’re to report on this issue, we need the entire story. From both sides and from all the players.

I’d like to hear straight from David Quilty, as Leslie has suggested he “had a fucking stroke” when he found out about Leslie’s identity as Fake Stephen Conroy.

I’d also like to hear more from Mike Hickinbotham. In all my dealings with him, and they have been several, Mike’s been a stand up guy. He knows and understands social media, he respects us as a community and he simply doesn’t strike me as a “voice of management”.

The fact is that Leslie’s been outed as Fake Stephen Conroy. He outed himself.

Telstra has said, and it’s been reported widely, that Leslie won’t lose his job over it. That’s a good thing. But there’s disagreement over whether Leslie was directly silenced, asked to exercise judgment on continuing as Fake Stephen Conroy, or has simply chosen to hand over the mantle (after all, he wasn’t, by his own admission, the original). That’s a bad thing, and we need clarity.

There’s also some pretty valid speculation as to whether Leslie‘s latest tweets, effectively calling out Mike Hickinbotham as a management mouthpiece, are more or less a career-limiting move. Certainly in some industries, they’d make him unemployable. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to make the comments if I were Leslie.

What this all leaves us with is several things:

  • if Leslie loses his job today, it’s arguable he brought it on himself.
  • Leslie has strong support in the community, particularly the tech, web and media communities, for what he did as Fake Stephen Conroy. He was funny, enlightening and insightful. There’s no question.
  • Telstra can look really good or terribly bad out of all of this. It all comes down to what they actually do today. If Telstra choose to let him go, they look pretty nasty and they rapidly undo all the goodwill they’ve built in the social media user base over the past year or so.
  • Telstra could retain Leslie and use him as a public face. He’s obviously whip-smart, has a way with words, and can crack a funny. Last night, Gavin Heaton (@servantofchaos) speculated on Twitter that Leslie could become Telstra’s Robert Scoble. This morning, he asks on his blog whether Leslie will be given that chance. I hope so.

But what’s more important, and I don’t think anyone is adequately looking at this, is why has this come about? Frankly, there’s just one answer. The Australian social media and IT media communities conducted a hunt that forced Leslie’s hand.

We hunted him down and forced him to out himself.

If Leslie loses his job today, who’s really to blame? It’s us. The people who made it necessary for him to reveal who he was. Because if he hadn’t been forced to reveal himself, none of this would have happened.

So, yes, Telstra should be the good guys and keep Leslie on staff. Maybe even reinvent his role and make use of his cleverness. But if they don’t, which one of us that shares culpability for this is going to give Leslie a job?

17 Replies to “There’s always more… Fake Stephen Conroy, Leslie Nasser and Telstra”

  1. This will be brief as I am on the run. Social Media is/ has changing/ changed the way we communicate profoundly. The quick witted amongst the population excel in utilising the medium to propel them to oft exalted status in cyber communities. Case in point Mr Leslie (albeit as someone else).

    When faced with a “dilemma” such as this one only needs to place themselves in the shoes of progressive visionaries such as Richard Branson. What would he do? You have already answered this question in your posting Stephen. Branson would make him a spokesperson for Telstra and increase on the goodwill that they have gained recently.

    Typically, this strategy would be furthest from their minds!

  2. Very good question!
    Let’s also be clear about responsibility and commitment. We are all responsible for our own actions – whether they are committed under instruction or from behind a mask. With every post, Leslie made a choice about what to say and how to say it.
    While I would love to see Leslie and his undoubted skills embraced by Telstra – I wonder whether he would be interested in that opportunity. Of course, if he finds himself out of a job he may become a hot property amongst the challenger Telcos – I can imagine Virgin snapping up such an opportunity. But again, this may not appeal to Leslie – nor suit his career expectations or his professional skills.
    Many questions … but plenty to watch as it unfolds.

  3. I’ve got to agree that we’re all responsible for our own actions – this has been a fascinating process to watch unfold and those involved and watching have learnt a lot – especially from the latest twists.

    Leslie now has the opportunity to cash in on the experience or – and this is the most important part – fade back into the relatively small community that he emerged from and have one hell of a funny story to tell.

    Yes, things could go horribly wrong for him, but he’s obviously a smart guy, so I’d say that he’ll do alright from it, one way or another.

  4. I actually didn’t care who the real person was behind Fake Stephen Conroy, anymore than I care about the real people behind the fake Peter Costello, Andrew Bolt, Malcolm Turnbull or Justin Milne.

    I’m not sure you can apply the “us” brush to all in social media here Stephen – it was a subset of the community that forced his hand (I had no idea there was a hunt going on myself).

  5. Ben, the us is collective and representative of the community.

    You know I’m not asserting every one of us was a part of it. Just as we are all responsible in our own way for resolving climate change issues, we are all, by being a part of the community that demands this openness, a part of the problem.

    Until the problem goes away and we’re all – individuals and businesses – capable and mature enough to accept the underlying humor of Leslie as FSC, people will risk losing their jobs. It started with Heather Armstrong and this is the latest chapter.

    I have faith that this will pan out okay, but there will be bumps.

  6. Do you think then that it’s misguided of the ‘community’ to expect/demand openness? It is the internet after all. Even when we’re being up front about who we are, we’re still presenting a facade.

  7. Ben, no, I don’t think it’s misguided. But to expect corporate maturity at the same pace we’ve developed individual and community maturity is misguided.

    We need to gently bring business and government along for the ride. The early-ish adopters will benefit in their businesses.

  8. Can I say that I don’t actually care. If Leslie gets fired then I feel bad for him. But lets not forget that lots of people are getting fired at the moment. And not because they satirized a pompous government minister. They are getting fired because of bad decisions made by their senior managers, because they haven’t kissed up to the right people or even because they are crap at their own jobs.

    FSC simply is not that important outside the cluster**** world of the Australian Social Media “community”.

    The outcome will either be that Telstra indicates they are heavy-handed and self-interested (quelle surprise) or that they are not quite as heavy-handed and self-interested as most of us thought.

    Nope, sorry, still not caring that much.

  9. Steve I was referring to people being misguided to expect openness on the part of any individual twitterer (or other SN participant), rather than openness from a corporation (that’s crazy talk, even if they are using SN).

  10. Stephen
    I tend to agree with Ben, and was going to write the comment before I read his. The collective “us” brush is a bit rough because it was a subset. Personally I’ve never once bothered to know or ask who FSC was; the join in the account was not knowing. That some people wanted to destroy that joy (like they do with many things) does not fairly bestow collective responsibility.

    1. I agree, Duncan. And I think both you and Ben know I didn’t mean or try to single out individuals. The whole thing started as a very funny joke, and if things were as I would have them, would remain that way.

      The we referred to the community generally – social media users who insist on transparency and openness in most things and expect business and government to have already come on that journey with us. I think sometimes we expect too much. I’m as guilty of that as anyone else. And happy to be so, as I think it’s where business and government should be.

      You and Ben are being too literal. You’re smart and know what I meant.

  11. At which point did ‘us’, as in the industry force him to reveal his identity? Lots of playful speculation, but was it ever anything more than that?

    1. Matt, yeah I think the speculation was a factor. Of course, Leslie’s the only one who can say for sure.

      Just as the hunt for Fake Steve Jobs forced the individual’s hand, I think us looking for FSC didn’t help. It’s not by a long shot the only factor, but I think it all adds up.

      I’m not blaming anyone in particular (as I don’t think there is anyone), what I’m pointing to is the culture (that I wholeheartedly support and am an active part of) that has us all looking for radical openness and honesty and the potential clash that it has with business and government who are largely, a long way from being ready to embrace that culture.

  12. C’mon guys, really, who f*cking cares?

    I can understand how this is great material for all the social media ‘experts’ to post new articles about what Telstra should or shouldn’t have done. I can already see all the regurgitated posts on rules of engagement and how their reputation with the Australian social media community has been damaged yadda yadda yadda… This is so last year!!!!!

    Reality is, outside of the circle of maybe 500-1,000 geeks on twitter, who else gives a f*ck about this whole debacle? To say that Telstra is going to look terribly bad depending on how they handle this is a bit of a stretch. Terribly bad in the eyes of who?

  13. Guys, this is the Unabomber all over again.

    “The Unabomber?”

    Yes, the Unabomber. A secondary identity becomes famous (or infamous) for an activity that the real person craves credit for. This is why Fake Steve Jobs got found out, why Fake Stephen has been revealed, and why the Unabomber didn’t eke out his days in his cabin in Wisconsin or wherever he was.

    Leslie was revealed because he wanted to kudos and was seemingly prepared to take the flack for it. Nothing more. There is no swathe of commmunity to blame, people seek recognition for the work they do. They’re human!

    End of story.

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